It seems that every other contemporary dance work presented these days is as much about words as it is about movement. And in most cases, you spend your time wondering what the text and choreography have to do with one another.
A glaring example of this trend came Thursday night at the Dance Place: "The Big Picture," an evening-length opus conceived and directed by the much-heralded New York choreographer Yoshiko Chuma and performed by her vibrantly eccentric six-member ensemble, the School of Hard Knocks. The work purports to be an exploration of the myriad ways in which air travel affects our culture and our perception of the world. Unfortunately, "The Big Picture's" disparate, uneven parts do not add up to a satisfying whole.
Catherine Bush has written a text that is one part mock B-movie screenplay about an American tourist and her encounter with a shady Hungarian guy, one part comedy sketch about the hazards of air travel, and one part sundry reminiscences about life in various cities. Chuma's movement sequences consist of quirky and at time dazzling gestural passages, loose-limbed flailings, mock violent duets and childlike pratfalls. The schizophrenic musical score by new wave darling Nona Hendryx includes syrupy pop ballads, many a jazz saxophone solo (performed, respectively, by company members Gayle Tufts and Dan Froot) and recorded incidental music of the loud and pulsing variety. Only Yvonne Jacquette's sets -- a series of portable scrims depicting assorted bird's-eye views of the world ranging from the northern hemisphere to Times Square -- and Timi Brown's airplane-imprinted costumes make any direct connection with the work's aviation theme.
While "The Big Picture" does have its moments -- razor-sharp verbal exchanges, a gorgeously rubbery solo performed by Donald Fleming -- the piece does not really cohere until the very end. The final image -- each performer moving liquidly behind a scrim as Chuma, suitcase in hand, stands downstage like an abandoned waif -- owes its power primarily to Stan Pressner's imaginative lighting design.
The second entry in the Dance Place's ambitious Japan-American Dance Project, "The Big Picture," will be performed tonight at 8:30 p.m. and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.